Shadowing a High School Student

January 27, 2017

Students in Manhattan Beach are some of the highest achieving students in the nation.  They graduate at an extraordinarily high rate and go to fantastic colleges and/or careers around the nation.  But we have seen warning signs that indicate stress levels are higher than ever before.  MBUSD is a proud member of the 21st Century Superintendents’ Consortium, comprised of similar high performing districts throughout the United States: Palo Alto, Austin, Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Omaha.  These districts share the same concern about student stress. And we are all trying to do something about it.

Several Consortium districts, including MBUSD, have joined Challenge Success, a Stanford-based research group looking to partner with schools to help students develop skills to help them lead balanced, successful lives.  We have a committed team of high school teachers, students, parents, administrators, and board members who have been working with Challenge Success to help our high school students.  Rather than look for quick solutions, we are taking time to try to make sure everyone knows what it’s like to be a student these days.  Teachers and counselors are listening closely to our students, and we are more aware than ever.  One of the ways that we are trying to better understand our students is by shadowing them for an entire day.  We picked 30 students to shadow.  Parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators are paired with these students.  Each adult meets a student before she or he enters his first class, and stays by the side of that student throughout the day.

This week, I shadowed a junior student at Mira Costa High School, and I had a spectacular day.  Here are some of my observations from the day.

  • The student I shadowed began his day at 7 AM in Advanced Placement statistics. I arrived 4 minutes early, and he was waiting for me at the door. I shadowed my student from 7 AM until 2:15 PM, when he went to a 3-hour soccer practice. In that 10-hour-plus period, there was not a single moment of downtime. He reported that after school, he had dinner with his family, did his homework, and did not get to bed until 1:30 AM.  Then it was back to a 7 AM class the next day.  5 hours of sleep is not enough.
  • The student I shadowed genuinely likes school. He has good friends, and he smiled throughout the day. He is comfortable with adults and speaks extraordinarily well and with ease.
  • For the most part, the time spent in the classes was split with a healthy balance of listening/learning/note-taking and active speaking and collaborating in the classroom. Most classes had moderate to very high levels of student engagement and talk during the lesson.
  • My student takes three AP classes. Taking three college level courses in one semester is a heavy load. Mira Costa currently limits AP classes at four. I think we should continue to examine whether three or four is the right number as a max AP load for our students.
  • He received three tests back on the day I shadowed. He took all of those tests on Tuesday (two days prior to my shadow day).  In his words, “Tuesday was a brutal day.”  Three tests in one day is not what we are looking for if we want to reduce student stress. Students really appreciate it when there are no more than two departments testing or having projects due on one day.  We are in our first year of that effort, and I encourage us to do a better job of making that happen for our students.
  • I thought the overall quality of teaching was very high. My student’s teachers know him well, and seemed to know all of the students in the class well.  Expectations are high in his classes, and there was a lot of time for wondering, questioning, creativity, collaboration, and interaction.
  • With the exception of one class, technology was not used much as a tool by students. I don’t really understand that, but it is real.
  • The student I shadowed is a choir student and a soccer athlete. Both of those activities are a great part of his day.  He is clearly passionate about both.  He spent his lunch at a choir club, then practicing with a men’s a cappella group.  The three hours of soccer practice speaks for itself.  I’ve always believed that if a student has just one part of her or his day that she/he looks forward to every day, the high school experience will be a positive one.

The next step is to work with Challenge Success to compile data from all 30 of these shadow days and report back to Mira Costa’s Social Emotional Wellness Committee.  The Committee can then discuss what we learned, and then look at actions we can take to help our students be increasingly healthy in their high school years and beyond.

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